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Sri Lanka

Tigers lay down arms

Article published on the 2009-05-17 Latest update 2009-05-17 15:21 TU

A man celebrates the Sri Lankan government's victory over the Tamil Tigers in Colombo, 17 May 2009(Photo: Reuters)

A man celebrates the Sri Lankan government's victory over the Tamil Tigers in Colombo, 17 May 2009
(Photo: Reuters)

After a bloody offensive by the Sri Lankan government to rout Tamil rebels once and for all, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) announced on Sunday that their 37-year battle for independence was over, bringing one of Asia’s longest-running civil wars to a close.

The Tigers' armed campaign against the government left more than 70,000 people dead during decades of battles, suicide attacks, bomb strikes and assassinations.

"This battle has reached its bitter end," Tigers' representative Selvarasa Pathmanathan said in a statement published on the Tamilnet website.

"We remain with one last choice -- to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns."

"Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer," Pathmanathan said.

“This statement put out on Tamilnet is essentially an admission of what the military has been saying for some time”, says correspondent Amal Jayasinghe, who dismisses the reports of the death of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran as “rumours”.

Interview: correspondant Amal Jayasinghe in Colombo

17/05/2009 by Lance King

A group of Tamil refugees file out of the combat zone in this Army handout photo.(Photo: Reuters)

A group of Tamil refugees file out of the combat zone in this Army handout photo.
(Photo: Reuters)

However, a military representative reached by RFI said that mop-up operations continued on the ground.

“The last remaining area – it’s about 300 metres by 300 metres,”

Général Udaya Nanayakara told RFI. "There are LTTE fighters still manning fortified bunkers engaging the army troops conducting the mopping-up operations.”

“We heard certain explosions inside the area. We assume that they must be burning ammo dumps, explosives and guns so that even if we capture it we will not be able to use it,” Nanayakara said.

“The end is very near….within a couple of days, we will be able to say that the whole area is liberated,” he said.

Interview: Sri Lankan army spokesperson Général Udaya Nanayakara

17/05/2009 by Stefanie Schüler

Just two years ago, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) appeared indestructible, controlling a large swathe of territory in the north of the island with all the trappings of a separate state.

But the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse launched a giant military offensive last year, saying from the start that he would accept nothing short of unconditional surrender.

Previous ceasefires, he claimed, had only allowed the rebels to regroup and prepare further offenses.

The final government push has come at the expense of thousands of innocent lives, according to the UN and many NGO sources.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, working in the war zone, described the situation as "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe."

Rajapakse announced his victory on Saturday in Jordan. "My government, with the total commitment of our armed forces, has in an unprecedented humanitarian operation finally defeated the LTTE militarily," he told an international leaders' meeting.

The president has faced fierce international criticism for civilian casualties caused by shelling and for the detention in state-run camps of more than 100,000 Tamils who fled the fighting.

“Now that there is no war zone, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the government to agree and allow aid agencies to travel to these areas,” our correspondent Prabhakaran says.

Protests by Tamil communities around the world failed in their aim to spur international intervention.